Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Overland Track: lessons learnt, tips for new players

Glad I brought: Ear plugs (for blocking out snoring in the huts), my super-small and light sea to summit day pack, the empty goon bag for carrying water, and my walking poles.

Wish I had: Some wine. A decent wine in one of those soft 1 L plastic bottles would have been great to stretch out over the whole walk. Also wished I had bought a dehydrator and brought more gourmet meals with a variety of veggies. A pack cover or a small screw-gate 'biner to keep the birds out of my pack would also have been handy.

Would leave at home: The Steripen water steriliser and just carry tablets for emergencies. The huts have massive rainwater tanks with beautiful water that doesn't need treating.

Boots vs. trail-runners: My Vasque goretex trail-runners kept my feet dry for the entire walk, were nice and light, and didn't give me blisters. I was worried about the lack of ankle support with a heavy pack, but combined with walking poles I was fine. Highly recommend!

Got (Telstra) mobile reception at: Top of Mt. Ossa and at the Pine Valley hut helipad.

Monday 14 December 2009

The Overland Track: Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair in 8 days

This walk has been a long time coming, so it was great to see all the planning come to fruition. We got into Launceston in the early afternoon, picked up some stove fuel from Paddy's, did some last-minute waterproofing, bought some food from Coles, and had our last civilised dinner at the Pizza Pub. All of that was within easy walking distance from the backpackers. Hot tip: Check the free food cupboard in the backpackers kitchen before you launch your shopping sortie.

Lee from Tiger Wilderness Tours picked us up, and kept us entertained with information about Tassie and the walk all the way to Cradle mountain visitors centre. We picked up our track passes, hired an EPIRB from national parks for $40, paid $60 for a parks car pass to cover all of us (possible if you are staying in Tassie and hiring a car after the track), and jumped back into the shuttle to get to the start of the track.

Day 1: Ronnie Creek to Waterfall Valley Hut

We started at Ronnie Creek at about 9:30, after Lee took some photos 'for the police'. It was a decent climb with heavy packs to Marion's lookout, then kitchen hut. We had lunch in the hut with some daywalkers who were nice enough to carry out some of our rubbish :) We walked up the slope slightly and dumped our packs for the assault on Cradle. We stuck our packs under the scrub a little to protect against the Currawongs, which were eyeing off the bags even as we left.

Cradle was covered in cloud, the wind was really strong, and it was raining slightly - a typical day on the track. A couple attempted the summit before us and turned back because of the weather; we kept going and were rewarded with amazing (but fleeting) views as the wind periodically blew the cloud away.

We picked up our packs and continued to waterfall valley hut, which seemed to take forever. It started raining really heavily for the last few k's and we were really glad to see the hut.

Soon after we arrived, a pack of 9 soaked uni students plodded in - they were our companions in the huts for the next few days. The photo shows some of the chaos of 20 something people trying to dry wet gear on the verandah.

We also met a friendly Frenchman, who walked with us for the rest of the trip, and a Japanese guy who was totally underprepared for the walk and had to be given food by the hut ranger. The rangers walk sections of the track and stay in the huts to look after things. The ranger at the first hut was Bill, who is allegedly a 90 year old(!!!?!) volunteer.

Day 2: Waterfall Valley Hut to Windermere Hut

We woke up to snow in the morning, which counted out the side trip up Barn Bluff (the cool pointy mountain you can see from the cradle summit photo above). A couple of the uni students tried, but turned back before the summit. It was another really cold, windy day, with sleet on the way to Lake Will. We had a cold lunch huddle on a small beach, partly sheltered from the wind by bushes.

In terms of walking it was a very easy day; we arrived at Windermere hut in the early afternoon despite a fairly leisurely start (getting everyone out of the hut at the same time was like herding cats). Two of our party went for a swim in Lake Windermere - crazy!

Day 3: Windermere Hut to New Pelion Hut

Amazing views today from Pine Forest Moor of the mountains ahead. Left to right they are Mt. Oakleigh, Mt. Pelion East, Mt. Doris, Mt. Ossa, and Paddys Nut with the Du Cane Range in the background. As soon as we hit the edge of Pelion West we entered what I think is the worst section of the whole track. There is very little duckboarding, and we spent hours stepping on slippery tree roots in pools of water and mud in the rainforest.

We were so happy to see Frog Flats. It is pretty tempting to camp there, but Lee warned us about the masses of leeches. We talked to another couple who did camp, and they confirmed that the tent got covered in leeches.

We checked out the historic Old Pelion Hut (built in 1895), before arriving at the new swanky one. This hut is beautiful - it has a huge verandah with views to Mt. Oakleigh, and sleeps 60. That gave us enough room to avoid the loudest snorer, a German guy called Sven(?). Even his friend didn't want to sleep near him - he said to me he didn't want to sleep in Sven's room because 'my colleague, he is always snorkelling'.

There were a couple of guys at the hut who had walked in from a dirt road along the Arm river track, which was apparently only about 4 hours. It would be cool to come in this way and summit Mt. Oakleigh; apparently the views are fantastic. The cruellest part was they had carried in 4 L of goon and were drinking it right in front of us - they didn't even offer to share, and polished off 2 L each. Bastards.

Day 4: New Pelion Hut to Kia-Ora Hut

We climbed all morning to reach Pelion Gap, then dropped our packs for an assault on Mt. Ossa - the highest mountain in Tasmania. It was a tough climb, 500m vertical, and once again the clouds lifted to give us a great view from the top. We found out later that a couple of days after we climbed Ossa, someone got choppered out because they had dislocated their shoulder on the climb.

I got phone reception from the top (5 bars! Telstra only) and called the folks. When I got back down I found the birds had unzipped the top of my pack, picked holes in all the ziplock bags, and distributed my first aid kit around the area. I wasn't silly enough to have food in there, and got everything back, but it was really annoying now that stuff wasn't waterproof. I'd recommend buying a generic pack cover if your pack doesn't have one, purely to protect it from the birds.

It seemed to take forever to get to the hut (again). When we finally arrived, a few people went for a wash in the creek and picked up leeches. Warren from bundy had them inside his raincoat and on his eyelid after putting his clothes and sunglasses on the ground beside the creek.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and quite a few people chose to camp to avoid the noise of the hut and the 'snorkelling'.

Day 5: Kia-Ora Hut to Bert Nichols (Windy Ridge) Hut

Everyone who camped the night before packed up their tents in heavy rain this morning. I'm glad we chose the hut. We set out in the rain, with Em's knee and Achilles playing up. We stopped in at Harnett falls, which were really pretty and arrived at Bert Nichols under beautiful sunny skies. We hung out on one of the tent platforms with a view of the Acropolis and Mt. Geryon and dried out our feet and gear in the sun.

Bert Nichols is a brand new (2008) hut, with a drying room, huge kitchen, and even some artwork.

Day 6: Bert Nichols Hut to Pine Valley Hut

We started off the day with a section of nice, flat, relatively dry track. After the turn up pine valley we were back into rainforest with slippery tree roots. We crossed a few suspension bridges, which made Em nauseous, and her Achilles was winning the pain battle with the Nurofen. We arrived in the afternoon to a really packed hut, but there was still room for us (just). It was raining and the clouds were low, which counted out the two main day walks - the Acropolis and The Labyrinth. I freaked everyone out in the hut with a small sleep walking incident...

Day 7: Pine Valley - The Labyrinth

We attempted the Labyrinth this morning, since it was too wet to think about climbing the Acropolis. The Labyrinth is a high plateau with a beautiful series of lakes that can be reached as a day walk from Pine Valley Hut. When the weather is clear the views are amazing, when it is cloudy or snowy it is deadly - a woman died doing the day walk up there in 2000 and her body was never found, despite many search parties. As an aside, there is a poo tube you can borrow if you are going to camp up in the Labyrinth area since it is impossible to dig your hole far enough away from water. There is something about a communal poo tube that is very wrong...

The track up to the plateau is much rougher and scrubbier than the main track - at one point we walked up a small waterfall. When we reached the high plateau the rain was being blown across the lakes, and we couldn't see more than a few metres in front of us. I turned back with most of our group, however two kept going for a short distance and managed to get some views during a brief break in the clouds. It is easy to see how you could get lost in the area; there are tracks in multiple directions, marked only by small rock cairns.

Day 8: Pine Valley Hut to Lake St. Clair

We had heaps of heavy rain during the night, and were wondering if some of the sections of track out of Pine Valley would be under water. There is a log bridge over a stream that has a wire running beside it to hang onto for just this eventuality.

Fortunately the track was still mostly above water, and we had a quick run down to Narcissus hut, where we saw the Cradle Huts crowd of commercially guided walkers for the first time on the track. We got to Narcissus in about 3 hours and were able to move our ferry booking to an earlier time using the radio.

Narcissus is a terrible hut - it is small, stinky, infested with native rats, and I'm glad we didn't plan on spending a night there. Two of our party picked up leeches right outside the hut.

We were glad to see civilisation when we arrived at Lake St. Clair, and promptly sat down to a beer and some food. I wouldn't recommend that cafe, the food is pretty terrible, even when judged by someone who has been eating dehydrated peas for 7 nights. Luckily our shuttle driver was waiting to take us back to Launceston, a shower, a big meal and more beer. We had a great pub meal and drinks at Irish Murphy's, I rate it.

What was it like?

We had an awesome time, and Em proved she is a hardcore hiker, putting up with an injury and still enjoying 8 days in harsh weather conditions in the wilderness. I took a couple of short movies of the track itself, so you can see what the path was like. I'd estimate less than 5% of the walk is duck-boarded, although if you include the old, mostly underwater, split logs then you might come up to 10%.